Agedashi Cod (揚げ出し鱈)
Updated: Oct 30, 2021
"The mind is like tofu. By itself, it has no taste. Everything depends on the flavour of the marinade it steeps in."
Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (1924-2014)
I’m not too up to speed on Japanese cuisine, but my brother has spent a lot of time in Asia over a number of years and has come back with some fascinating insights. He’s got quite an adventurous palate, that’s for sure! Quite recently he bought me some good quality tofu and encouraged me to try the classic dish, “Agedashi Tofu”, which, not being a tofu fan (likewise, paneer and other rather bland curds) I did only because, being his recommendation, there could be something I was missing. There was! I really liked it. I’ve since asked him to buy it for me again.
Now, speaking to my Japanese friend, Kumiko, there’s tofu and there’s good tofu, but I’m not qualified to sit myself in that judges’ chamber. Kumiko also helped me to understand that it was quite OK to call this dish "Agedashi Cod" because "age" means fried and "dashi" is, of course, the now very well-known broth. It goes without saying that she also provided me with the Japanese script! If she's being naughty, it could mean anything!
So, why replace the tofu with cod? Especially given that, so often, when a cod recipe is in the crosshairs of my sights, I am inclined to consider what other (related) white fish species might be enjoyed with the same treatment, species which are so often overlooked. However, there are those times when there’s the right fish for the dish and cod is the thing here - it really works. The melting texture and flaky consistency of very fresh, native cod, crisped in potato starch, is perfect in the light but umami-charged broth and really makes for an appetite-whetting starter to the menu to follow.
Seasonality-wise this is a dish that can be enjoyed for much of the year. In terms of what comes to the market from the Dorset waters, the cod tends to have been line-caught in the summer months and net-caught for many of the other months. If anything, it's the radishes that probably dictate the seasonality of this dish and, that being the case, it's one for spring into late summer. That's fine.
I can't profess to know exactly what implements would traditionally be used to eat a dish like this but if a spoon wasn't among them surely a trick would be being missed!?
The bulk of this recipe comes from that of "Agedashi Dofu" (it's a pronunciation thing rather than a typo, apparently!) in "Harumi's Japanese Cooking". The garnishes she advocates include grated ginger, shredded daikon radish, shredded shizo leaves and finely-sliced spring onion or finely-chopped chives.
Though I did have a daikon radish (which I absolutely love, especially with tuna sashimi) in the fridge and could have used it as the authentic garnish to this dish, I couldn’t resist the vibrant colour of our seasonal native red radishes whose flavour is really not that far away. The stunning colour contrast is a winner in my eyes.
In a similar vein, I have tried this dish (both tofu and cod versions) garnished with the classic shizo leaves and Harumi's suggested alternative: a combination of mint and basil. Both versions are delicious so not being able to find shizo leaves is no reason at all not to enjoy this dish.
As I mentioned in "Mackerel 'Tatsuta-Age' Style", cornflour is a perfectly effective substitute for potato starch, but I am increasingly convinced that the latter does achieve a lighter and more golden crisp. Of course potato starch is available in Asian grocers but it is also available in health food shops.
This is one of those recipes where ingredient quantities can simply be multiplied up so, for example, to make for four, just double all quantities.
Agedashi Cod (揚げ出し鱈)
Ingredients (Serves 2)
2 x 65-75g cod fillets, from the loin, skinned
Potato starch (or cornflour), to coat the fish
Sunflower or vegetable oil, sufficient for deep-frying
120ml dashi stock (see Notes)
1 tbsp mirin
1 tbsp (Japanese) soy sauce
A pinch or two of caster sugar
For the garnish (all quantities to taste):
Grated radish (or Daikon)
Grated ginger, approx ¼ tsp per serving
Shiso leaves (or a mix of fresh basil and mint leaves), finely shredded
Spring onion or chives, sliced as thinly as possible
Ensure the cod fillets are dry and coat with the potato starch (or cornfour). Prepare the garnishes.
Heat the oil to 170-190°C and deep-fry the fish for about 3 mins, turning once or twice, until the outside has become crisp and golden and the centre is just cooked. Transfer to a plate lined with kitchen paper to drain off excess oil.
Heat the dashi stock, mirin, soy sauce and sugar in a small saucepan for a minute or so. It shouldn't boil but the sugar should have dissolved.
Place a fish fillet in each of two soup bowls and pour around the dashi sauce. Garnish and serve.
Dashi stock: Although this can be made at home, I'm not sure the effort required can be justified. It is available ready made in some supermarkets but otherwise it can be bought from Asian grocers in a dry powder form which just needs to be dissolved, according to the intensity required, in hot water. As a guide, for this recipe, the ratio of powder to water to use is that of the miso soup recipe that will inevitably be on the packet. For example, with the brand that I have been using of late, that means 2g powder per 50-60ml of water for each serving.
"Harumi's Japanese Cooking", Harumi Kurihara (2004), pp. 73: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Japanese-Cooking-Harumi-Kurihara/dp/1840915013
"Mackerel 'Tatsuta-Age' Style", Bute Street Seafoodie